Muslims complain the West portrays Islam as violent, misogynistic and unforgiving. As a Muslim woman myself, I confirm ‘Muslim’ brutality is best portrayed only by ourselves.
This week in Multan, Pakistan, 36-year-old Farzana Bibi was allegedly dismembered by her husband for refusing to wear a niqab. Waiting until their three children had gone to school, he allegedly took a knife used for slaughtering an animal in the halal fashion to dismember her into ten pieces.
Farzana’s husband-turned-alleged-murderer was noted to have a short temper. Yet he was known as an upstanding man who led prayers at the local mosque and to whose home others came to study the Quran. In other words, he held religious authority because of his religious knowledge.
He left a note on the body before disappearing. The note allegedly confirmed the murder had been a rational and premeditated, one he based on his interpretation of Sharia. Claiming he had deliberated before the act, he finally determined to execute his wife since he didn’t wish to bear responsibility for her sins against God. By extinguishing her, he believed he had absolved himself of any guilt for her intransigence on Judgment Day.
He reportedly wrote explicitly of wanting to “punish his wife for rebelling against Allah’s orders” adding that he wished all women to learn from this act, and then complained of how his children had been enrolled in a secular English medium school rather than a religious madrasah.
Today, onlookers could be forgiven for assuming that brutal Quranic penalties are critical components to an observed Muslim life, a diabolical distortion of the pluralistic pacifist Islam I was raised in. However, even in a world rife with abominations afflicting the Muslim world, today’s Pakistan, the world’s first Muslim democracy, exemplifies some of the most egregious violations of Islam at the hands of Muslims, all too often befalling the heads of the most vulnerable.
It wasn’t always like this. Sadakat Kadri detailed in his book on Sharia law “Heaven on Earth” how Quranic penalties were exceedingly rare throughout history. In the fifteen centuries since Islam’s revelation, an array of violent recourse had been available to Islamic authorities, though generally not deployed. Restraint was the order of the times and documented in the very rare instances of capital punishment. Today, the resurrection of violent punishments defines much of Muslim culture in both Diaspora and Muslim majority communities. This revivalist extremism is a deliberate, modern product of 20th century Islamists.
Despite being steeped in the ritualistic mechanics of Islam he failed to absorb the foundational beliefs central to Islam. Individual free will (particularly that of his wife), the express decree of non-compulsion in any aspect of Islamic religious expression, the Islamic ideal of tenderness towards women and above all the sacred and superior status of a Muslim mother over all other Muslims all evaded his religious ‘scholarship’. A minor detail which would prove ultimately fatal would also escape him: that the niqaab itself was never mandated for women by Islam and in fact is expressly forbidden during the most religious rite of Muslim belief, as I learned myself during my own pilgrimage to Mecca while making Hajj. While apparently fluent in the movement and catechisms of Islam, Farzana’s killer was a calcified illiterate when it came to Islam’s spirit.
Farzana is yet another sacrificial offering in the service of an ever more bloodthirsty man-made Islam. Knowing Pakistan’s track record, in a country where false testimony goes unpunished even when resulting in the incarceration of a developmentally delayed Christian child, where Blasphemy charges on hearsay result in mob lynchings, where Christian neighborhoods are razed to the ground in plain view of security forces and where massacres of pacifist Ahmadi Muslims unfold unchallenged on live TV, this particularly repugnant crime is likely to go unprosecuted, and the perpetrator aggrandized for his ‘defense’ of Islam’s ‘honor.’ Any judge who wishes to bring charges risks assassination at the hands of extremist mobs.
This kind of violent ‘Islamic’ expression is recent, first igniting with the birth of the modern Iranian Theocracy in the southern Iranian city of Kerman early in the Revolution, where firing squads set about executing Iranians deemed ‘perverts, drug dealers and leftists’, at the order of the new Ayatollah. Local zealots determined there should be a holier, more authentically Islamic response than firing squads. Soon instead of shooting, death squads stoned four men to death (reported by The Times’ correspondent, Robert Fisk). The brutality Shia extremists introduced to Islamic Sha’ria had never been seen before.
Anxious after the unnerving 1979 siege of Mecca themselves, and not to be out done in religiosity by Shias, Wahaabi Saudi Arabia hurried to keep pace with revivalist neo-orthodoxy. In short order, they implemented ‘legal reform’ in 1981 that reintroduced execution (including crucifixion) not only for murder, but for all sexual abduction, armed robberies and drug offenses.
In neighboring Pakistan, sensing domestic political anxiety, after the execution of democratically installed Zulfikar Bhutto, Pakistan’s dictator General Zia consolidated the power he had grabbed through military coup by launching his own 1978 Islamicization programs, quickly legalizing four Hudood ordinances which are particularly violently exacted upon Pakistani women and Pakistan’s minorities.
Each are examples of Muslim leaders’ political expediency fueling Islamist extremist policies in the service of both domestic oppression and appeasement of firebrand clerics to shore up seized but ever-fragile power.
The most cursory of searches in the Qur’an reveals over 200 instances of divine forgiveness and dozens of references to forgiveness that can be sought either from our fellow man or our Maker. Yet Muslim majority societies show little in the way of Mercy, kindness or humanity in either their human rights measurements or the letter or spirit of their laws. Their citizens reflect their society, after all, more than anything else, a society is what it tolerates.
In Saudi Arabia where the law isn’t even written (all laws are oral and handed down by appointed judges) verdicts can only be challenged by royal decree. In both instances, whether the seat of all Islam, or the worlds first and widely acknowledged Muslim Democracy, citizens, particularly the most vulnerable, are subject to the whim of empowered unforgiving men. It’s unsurprising therefore Farzana’s husband took the actions he did — he has been legitimized by a heartless state.
In the ‘democractic’ Islamic Republic of Pakistan which has held seats at the UN Human Rights Council, there are no deterrents for these actions. Pakistani citizens, despite being an empowered populace, freely mobile, and with access to all forms of media, have consistently shown themselves unmotivated to act in the defense of Pakistan’s Christians, Shias, Sufis, Hazaras, Ahmadi Muslims, Ismaeeli Muslims, young girls attempting to get an education in the SWAT, nurses risking their lives to vaccinate babies against polio, their heroic statesmen including Governor Salman Taseer or Minister Shabbaz Bhatti or indeed any other vulnerable group.
There is no reason to expect them to act now, in the wake of this truly obscene crime, and in a country where Islam is man-made, events like these will continue to increase. Rather like Farzana, Muslims have cut Islam to ribbons. In the meantime, as we fail to act otherwise, our collective self-portrait grows ever bloodier.
Qanta A. Ahmed is a Muslim British physician specializing in sleep disorders. She is also an author and a newspaper columnist.
This piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.